“Missing White Woman Syndrome” gains attention in the media


Paula Posey holds up a picture of her daughter, Shemika Cosey, who has been missing since 2008. Image source: ABC news

Ashley Smith, Contributing Writer

We all know or are familiar with the name Gabby Petito, but have you heard the name Jelani Day, or Daniel Robinson? 

Gabby Petito has recently gained massive media attention after she went missing in late August this year. So why have missing person cases with the same narrative not gotten the same attention? What is so special about Gabby Petito? 

Many people speculate that the reason she got such attention is because of her appearance and her skin color. 

Gabby was a 22-year-old blonde, white woman. She went missing while on a trip with her fiance, Brian Laundrie, and was found dead nearly a month later. Her case sparked fear in the hearts of parents and families across the nation, who sympathized with Petito and her family. Where, however, is the same level of sympathy and attention for missing people of color and their families? 

In a seven day period, Gabby’s name was mentioned 398 times on Fox News, 346 times on CNN, and 100 times on MSNBC. But African-American families, whose children have gone missing, still have yet to get adequate news coverage and are pleading for the media’s attention. 

Jelani Day, a 25 year-old black man, went missing on August 25th and was found dead on September 23rd. With nearly the same story and timeline as Gabby, his media coverage was small in comparison to hers. Similarly, Daniel Robinson, a 24-year-old black man went missing after leaving a worksite in Buckeye, Arizona. His father, upset with the local police’s lack of urgency, even went so far as to hire his own private investigator. Daniel hasn’t been found. 

These are just two examples of the hundreds of similar situations that black families have been put in. 

When asked if she had heard of Gabby Petito, Ms. Forte-Doyle, a teacher at MRHS, responded, “Yes, I heard about her on the news,” but when asked if she had heard about Daniel Robinson or Jelani Day, both answers were no. 

Gabby’s case has brought to light the clear inequities in racial news coverage, specifically in missing person cases. Many people of color are urging for this issue to be talked about more. It has even been given a name, “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” after the disproportionate coverage white women receive in the news. 

When asked if she feels there are inequities for people of color in this country Doyle responded, “Is the pope Catholic?” Her sarcastic response just shows how each one of us is so accustomed to racism in our everyday lives. 

Ms. Doyle is a self-proclaimed “ally” to the black community, and the only teacher at MRHS to offer a course centering on people of color, called African American Voice. “I have always been very comfortable with people of all kinds of colors and religions,” Doyle explained.

Referencing how we can create change in our country as high schoolers, Doyle said, “It’s gonna have to be in young people’s hands for the most part. You could hold a protest, You could go out to a rotary in Hyannis and have signs with the names of these people who are missing… Just sitting in a classroom thinking it’s wrong isn’t enough, it’s just not. It’s more in the hands of kids your age.” 

Perhaps we all need to ask ourselves what we can do to help address the inequalities that people of color face in our society. 

For more information on how to do your part in creating equality, visit www.blacklivesmatter.com